Queens Owners Settle $1M Discrimination Case
Former owners of a rental building in Far Rockaway have agreed to pay $1 million to settle a federal lawsuit accusing them of discriminating against people who had been incarcerated. The lawsuit claimed that the owner refused to rent apartments to applicants who had served time in prison. The case originated back in 2014 when a social service provider accused the owners in Brooklyn federal court of violating the Fair Housing Act by automatically refusing to rent to someone with a criminal record.
This case is similar to a settlement announced last year by the New York City Commission on Human Rights. In that case, a housing management company was charged with discriminating against applicants based on their race, color, and national origin by denying housing to applicants with criminal histories without performing individualized analyses of those records. The charges in this case followed U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enforcement guidelines issued in 2016 that address the discriminatory effects of criminal history checks on black and Hispanic housing applicants. City statistics show that blacks and Hispanics are incarcerated at rates disproportionate to their share of the population in New York City.
A blanket policy of denying housing to individuals with criminal records is likely to violate the federal Fair Housing Act when that policy doesn’t serve a legitimate business interest, according to 2017 HUD guidance. Further, the guidance points out that arrest records are often inaccurate and incomplete and that relying on them as a basis for denying or terminating someone from housing may result in unwarranted denials of admission or eviction.
Although protecting residents’ safety and property may be considered a responsibility of a housing provider, the guidance states, housing providers must be able to prove that housing decisions based on criminal history actually assist in protecting residents and property. According to HUD’s guidance, “Bald assertions based on generalizations or stereotypes that individuals with an arrest or conviction record pose a greater risk than any individual without such a record” don’t satisfy that burden. Rather, HUD suggests that landlords should conduct individualized assessments of applicants’ criminal records including the nature, severity, and date of their arrest or criminal conduct, rather than categorical exclusions.
In New York City, it’s unlawful to discriminate against individuals in housing based on race, color, and national origin, including implementing policies or practices that discriminate against individuals based on their protected class.